Five students from the Class of ‘20–Amy Mostafa, Eric Murphy, Lulu Orozco, Katey Rusch and Brandon Yadegari–have been awarded Helzel Fellowships at the Graduate School of Journalism.
The fellowship was established in 2017 by siblings Deborah Kirshman and Larry Helzel, board members of the Oakland-based Helzel Family Foundation.
The goal of the fellowship is “to get behind a program at Berkeley that wants to train young journalists to not only seek, but speak the truth,” Helzel said. “[We wanted to] have a direct and immediately positive impact on helping develop the next generation of journalists who won’t be bought and sold by the highest bidder.” The fellowships help students cover their tuition and other school expenses.
The fellows spent their first semester reporting on inequity, environmental issues and local government.
“Lately, I’ve been drawn to topics on health and environmental equity, especially food and housing security,” said Amy Mostafa, whose concentration is data and audio storytelling, and who produces a weekly show at KALX focused on women and non-binary community leaders in Bay Area politics and tech.
Eric Murphy said he has chosen journalism because he wants to empower the public with knowledge about how society functions and why. “I hope my reporting overall holds powerful people accountable,” he said. In the fall, Murphy reported for Mission Local, the news site that covers San Francisco’s Mission area, that a private ambulance company had donated more than $20 million to support Proposition 11, which would require emergency workers to remain on call during their breaks. That figure had not been previously reported, and made the ambulance company the third-largest donor to a ballot measure in the state.
“A democratic society requires that the public has more than just information; it requires true understanding,” he said.
“I’ve been drawn to environmental topics that range from deforestation to the future of agriculture,” said Lulu Orozco, who is participating in the documentary track at Berkeley. “I hope to tell visual stories that promote social change and have long-term effects.”
Katey Rusch says she’s a journalist “to give a voice to the voiceless,” and to “listen empathetically and write honestly about people and issues.” Her work at the School has focused on local government; she writes for the hyperlocal news site Oakland North on the politics beat, with a concentration on narrative writing and investigative reporting.
Brandon Yadegari is a visual and investigative journalist whose work focuses on displacement and migration caused by climate change and financial crises. He spent his first semester reporting on housing and local government for Richmond Confidential, the School’s other hyperlocal news site. His first published story on the site was an intimate portrait of members of Richmond’s homeless community, written as voters contemplated whether to vote for a ballot measure that would provide $2 billion in housing and services for the severely mentally ill.
“I’m a journalist because I see a need to work with my communities to tell stories that are often overlooked,” Yadegari said. “I’m at the J-School to develop the skills I need to be able to do that effectively and sensitively.”
Edward Wasserman, dean of Berkeley Journalism, said this type of funding is critical, as the cost to study journalism rises, along with society’s need for it. “This investment in the next generation by the Helzel Family Foundation is invaluable. It’s a public-facing statement that powerful journalism in the public interest matters, and that philanthropists see the value in giving tailwind to our students. We couldn’t be more grateful for Deborah’s and Larry’s intellectual and financial support.”
By Annie Berman (’20)